Hello again. Didn’t I just write a piece about the Knicks and Atlanta? I did. The Knicks lost. Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this piece given the previous outcome, and come to think of it, the next two games the team plays are contests with the Hawks. Game one is at home and a couple of days later the second game is in Atlanta. Might I be double or triple jinxing the Knicks in these match ups? Meh.
I’m going to write to you about talent. Talent is a word used to discuss and describe individual players, and also to discuss and describe entire teams. It’s a word that’s used in the absolutist sense like, “He’s very talented,” or, “That team lacks talent.” Talent is really a more fluid concept when you break it down. Lou Amundson has just as much talent as Lebron James in a given moment. He might run the break, cut to the hoop, and catch an alley oop. In that moment, Lou Amundson maximized his coordination, explosiveness, and fluidity to execute an elegant and powerful basketball maneuver. The chief difference between Lou Amundson and Lebron James, in that regard, is that Lebron James executes such maneuvers on a consistent and regular basis, while Lou Amundson may do it on special occasions, like when you’re Great Uncle Albert suddenly busts out a series of highly coordinated dance moves at the family reunion after one too many sangrias. It’s in that 90-year old body somewhere, but it’s not meant to be a regular feature of his life….for everyone’s safety.
The Knicks, as a team, demonstrate this maddening tendency a lot. They have players up and down the roster who possess the talent to execute delicious and savory basketballing, but few who can put together a whole game of the stuff, let alone a stretch of games. I’d point to Arron Afflalo as exhibit A in this maddening aspect. Afflalo once averaged around 18 points a game for the Orlando Magic, something Wally Szczerbiak regularly likes to point out. It’s the kind of terrible flirtation that does a disservice to Afflalo as much as to the fans who cheer for him. It was wonderful that he managed to tap his talent that consistently one year. He was really in the flow. It’s also something he’s never been able to duplicate again, nor should anyone expect him to. Afflalo is the type of player who can get hot and drop a bunch of lovely 20-30 point games in a row, but is doomed to disappear from time to time. Looking at player game logs can sometimes illustrate the level of consistency that defines the truly dominant players in the league, even when they’re second fiddles. A guy who you can count on for 12-15 points a game every night is sometimes better than the guy who can win you three in a row, but fail to show up the next home stand.
The Knicks are really a club of Arron Afflalos. There’s a tantalizing amount of talent spread around the team as it’s presently constructed, but very little consistently. Derrick Williams can go on a roll as he did against Detroit and take over a game. He might also go two weeks without another such outburst. Kyle O’Quinn might put together three or four straight games of tough defense, effective rebounding, and beardy intimidation, but he also forces Fisher to pull him when he starts whipping the ball around with his no look passes and risky outlets. Galloway started the season red hot and reminded us of his inspiring potential as an undrafted gem, but he’s been bad for the bulk of the season and he’s really running on hope in the Knicks rotation more than anything else. You see a glimmer of his finishing at the rim, transition defense, or nifty entry passing, but you also see him flop around quite a bit and miss wide open shots. I could go on…
The Hawks are a top ball club precisely because they have several key players who bring it every night. They bring effort, intelligence, and consistent results. Horford and Millsap are consistent and reliable. Teague has become much more consistent in most areas of the game, and while he’s struggling at the moment, Kyle Korver has been remarkably consistent from three point range in his career. He just keeps hitting them, game after game after game. Clockwork.
I would argue that the Hawks are nearly as consistent, either individually or as a team, as the elite clubs in the NBA. They’re good enough, smart enough, and consistent enough for people to like them, just like Stuart Smalley. Yeah…I’m going with that. The Hawks are the Stuart Smalley of the NBA. The Knicks play Jekyll and Hyde as a team for stretches, and the main reason is that they’re a team of Jekyll and Hyde talents. That’s not something that the team is going to solve during 2015-16, so it would seem that we’re doomed to watch a lot of games like the Chicago affair. Awful for stretches. Transcendent for stretches. Not enough in the end to beat good teams. The key for the Knicks is to be able to sustain their talent for longer than a couple of quarters, and then sustain that game-long excellence for several games in a row. They’re going to disappear for a week at a time, but you want to see them maximize what they have and knock off a few really good teams in the process. Right now, standing in front of them, is a back to back against a good, consistent, talented group of Hawks and the Knicks better get their focus on quick, or this is going to be very, very ugly.
Keep your fingers crossed friends. Let’s go Knicks.